Things that make me go "hmmm..."
My plans today (for my second day home after traveling a BUNCH for work, lately) included going to church with Dave then going to play golf with Dave then sit outside and read. Those plans have been thwarted as I began getting a sore throat on Friday that has progressed into a pretty nasty cold (complete with 101 degree fever, chills, body aches, etc. etc.). So what do I do? I took a bath and began to THINK. Sometimes, thinking is dangerous territory for me. Today was different. I started thinking about how grateful I am for all the laughs I have had over the years of being a consultant, and how much I look forward to continued work with schools, districts, teachers, school leaders, and other staff, as well.
One of my first thoughts was of my years teaching about Character Education. I taught lessons in all the classes in the elementary school where I was a guidance counselor and ultimately a principal, but I also was honored enough to teach at regional and national conferences on success stories. One such conference comes to mind---one in which I was introducing the character traits (to adults, I must caveat) I would teach to the students. Honesty was first. I loved telling the following story about telling the truth:
John and Susan had been dating pretty intimately for several years but had not bitten the bullet to get married, yet. John's mom had long suspected that John and Susan had gotten to the ultimate stage of "intimate", but she always required them to sleep in separate bedrooms when they visited ("not under my roof" was her motto). She asked John every time they visited whether he and Susan were sleeping together. John always said, "Mom, of course not. We're waiting for marriage." On one visit, John's mom decided to take matters into her own hands. At dinner one night, she casually mentioned, "Has anyone seen my antique gravy ladle? I can't seem to find it and was going to use it for our dinner tonight." John's dad, John, and Susan all looked at her quizzically and all answered variations of "Nope", "Haven't seen it", "Don't know where it could be". And then she pounced with her next statement, "John and Susan, you both have stuck to the claim that you haven't been sleeping together. But I'll tell you right now...if Susan had been sleeping in her own bed, she would have found that gravy ladle by now."
I was thinking about honesty and thinking about thinking, as well. I think my mind goes odd places when I am not feeling great. One of the things we do to help teachers experience engagement centers around United States history. Since I was going to be teaching in Canada this week, I decided to change the activity to something more "universal". I asked them to individually (and then in groups) come up with questions to which the answer would be "100". I put no parameters on the activity except the answer to the questions they created had to be "100". I have to admit I was absolutely blown away by the "questions" they created. Some of them were math questions but some were totally non-math related, which made the activity that much more engaging when each table group shared out their "questions". One participant said, "At first, I just thought about things like 'What is 50 X 2?' but once we started sharing as a group, I realized there were so many more possibilities. We then processed the activity from a teacher's perspective, and they shared ways they could use that activity in their own content area. One said, "If 'freedom' is the answer, then what is the question?" I thought about how the questions might look incredibly different, depending on what part of the world you lived in or what time frame we might be discussing. What about a simpler one: "If 'big' is the answer, what is the question?"
Then my mind really took off this morning (does Thera-Flu have that effect, perhaps?). I wondered what would happen if I had a class who was studying weather phenomena, and I put up several pictures around the room of the aftermath of several of these natural disasters. I could add the location (is it Kansas or is it in Sumatra, Indonesia), the temperature outside at the time of the phenomenon, and any other pertinent "hints". I would then ask the question: If this was the "effect", what might have been the "cause"? Students could rotate through the room in partners and trios and try to make educated guesses based on what we had learned (or were going to learn). How might this activity increase student engagement versus the typical "telling" we tend to do, sometimes.
I still have lots of thoughts in my head---about how different learners are engaged by story-telling, group work, or thinking backwards, for instance. I would love to hear some of your "think outside the box" types of activities you do to engage your young or more seasoned learners in the learning. For now, I fear that the Thera Flu is kicking in, and I am needing a nap. If "nap" is the answer, what is the question? What Shelly needs when she is sick and exhausted.
If you're happy and you know it...
I have always been a fairly happy person. Not that I haven't had my fair share of times when I was sad, mind you, but I don't like the idea of staying unhappy for very long. Many years ago, I realized my analogy to "staying sad" was hanging out in a pile of poop for an extended period of time. I could wallow around in my own poo, but that just doesn't seem to be very appealing, does it? So, what is the solution if I feel myself getting dragged into negativity, sad happenings in the world or toxic people? GET OUT of the POOP PIT!
What does this mean, exactly?
1. Realize that I have a choice--Even when I feel like I am surrounded by negativity or sadness (actually, especially when I am surrounded by negativity or sadness), I have to remember a little chant I made up for the kids at the elementary school in Florida where I was principal for 7 years. It goes like this:
"I always have a choice, no matter what I do.
I make the choice, and I can't blame you."
When we talked about making choices, I would have the kids chant this with me in lots of different ways: like a tiny little mouse (cue the high-pitched voice that sends dogs into orbit); like a BIG FAT WHALE in the ocean (insert your best deep, booming voice); like you have a drawling Southern accent; like a cheerleader (after each phrase, shake your imaginary pom-poms and yell "Yea!" --- this is guaranteed to annoy anyone who already thinks you are too peppy!), and on and on it goes. The kids LOVED it! And, truth be told, it was hard to stay grumpy, myself, when chanting this little ditty along with them.
I heard someone say this week, "She made me feel so worthless." I couldn't stand it. I had to suggest, "How might you have contributed to feeling worthless? How is it that you are giving her all that power?" In hindsight, perhaps I should have suggested we repeat together my chant, but then again, perhaps not. I truly believe I teach people, everyday, how to treat me. I make that choice.
2. Move to a positive outlook--If you adhere to my poop pit analogy, who among us would honestly choose to stay in a poop pit? I'm guessing that would be a "negative, Ghostrider" (note my "Top Gun" reference to further remove you from any funk you might currently be in). And yet...isn't that exactly what we do when we choose to reside in negativity? Now, I'm not at all suggesting to avoid crying when a loved one dies (I think crying is one of the best God-given activities in the world---it may not sound appealing, but "try it; you'll like it" is my motto about crying to get some emotions out and about) or when we are experiencing a bit of heartache for whatever reason. What I am suggesting is that remaining in that place is a bit like pressing the pause button while the movie is buffering, then never pressing the "Play" button again to continue. What happens? We never have a chance to see the rest of the movie! In other words, we don't move on! Instead, I would suggest that we pick ourselves out of the poop pit and do the next right thing---whatever that is for you. For me, it involves getting down on my knees and praying; getting my butt in gear to prepare for a new job; going for a jog with the dogs; going to play golf (I use that phrase VERY, VERY loosely, as you might well know) with my sweet hubby, Dave; taking a trip to a climate different from my current one; reading a book in the backyard (sounds luxurious and decadent, doesn't it?) What is it for you to get out of the poop pit?
3. Get out of myself and do something for someone else. For anyone who has ever done a bit of mission work, or anything similar to that, you know the amazing psychological and physiological effects this can have on your psyche. Somehow, God has created us to have some sort of paradoxical feeling---when we do for others, we gain so much in return.
When I feel any of that negativity creeping up on me, what I WANT to do is isolate. Instead, I learned about 20 years ago that isolating is likely the last thing I need to do. Think about it: would I consciously choose to sit in my own poop pit by myself, pining away for what I think I deserve and haven't been given? Eewwwwww! Icky!! Everybody can likely agree that sounds disgusting. And yet...isn't that exactly what we do when we wallow in self-pity, jealousy, anger, or resentment? On the contrary, when I get outside my own self and do something for someone else, I soon forget about my own garbage and realize that the act of helping has increased my endorphins and I actually have a desire to put my poop pit up for sale. We have to, then, DO the opposite of what we FEEL LIKE DOING, and we have to do it until we no longer feel the way we did. Crazy stuff, right?
So, just for today, perhaps think about ways you have the ability within you to remove yourself from the negative real estate in which you might currently reside and move to a new, more positive neighborhood.
Stick with the winners!
I'm still not anywhere close to mediocre when it comes to playing golf (or is it "golfing", inquiring minds want to know?). And by that, I mean I am still horrible. But I still love going out there to play. Think about it...what could be better than to be in nature, with my sweet husband (who, by the way, is a golf legend), and getting to view pretty neighborhoods, homes, yards (oh wait, this is where Dave says, "You're supposed to be focused on playing golf, not paying attention to 'pretty houses'"---I say, "Why can't a girl do both?"), and maybe par a hole or two every great once in awhile? I've come a long way from crying because I couldn't hit the ball to not caring. Oh, I care...I am just not going to let a not-so-good golf game make me cry anymore. I love playing with Dave, too, as he is SO much better than me, I get a chance to see what a real golfer looks like.
Dave has always said he doesn't mind playing with people who are better than he is. He said he thinks it makes him step up his game. I think that is code for: when he plays with me, he can slack off, but I don't want to ask.
I liken his view on golf to what I believe in my heart to be the right way to live my life---stick with the winners. I need to stick with people who are instruments of peace, not vehicles full of poison. That goes for so many aspects of my life, but I also think there is a really good reason for this pearl of wisdom---we need to stick with people who will challenge our thinking. Left to my own devices, my mind is a dangerous neighborhood. Being around people who challenge me has proved to be quite lucrative. I always learn so much more than if I am just stuck in my own rut. How does this apply to me, professionally and philosophically? It means that I have to admit I don't know everything about ANYthing, and that, while I can contribute to a body of knowledge on certain topics, I need to be willing to listen to other people's perspectives.
In an Education Law class I am currently teaching for students getting their Master's Degrees in Educational Leadership, the students are posed with a dilemma about what they would do if they were school leaders who were faced with a bullying situation. In the scenario, the bullies are lobbing racial slurs at fellow students who come to school in t-shirts that depict flags from various nations. My students are asked to state their course of action and defend it with case law and school policies. Most everyone can agree that bullying is not okay, no matter what, and that they would discipline the bullies. But there are differing shades on what might be done with the t-shirt wearers. Some say that all these students wearing Mexican flags (or insert the name of another country) on their t-shirts are trying to "stir up trouble", thereby causing enough disruption for the school leader to ask them to change shirts. Other students, however, state that the First Amendment gives the students the right to wear whatever t-shirts they want, as long as their intent is not to cause disruption in the school. I admit it: I love watching my students debate this issue back and forth, challenging each other's thinking by asking questions like, "I understand your perspective, but I am curious what legal cases support your position?" I am pretty involved with my courses I teach, and I often spur on and facilitate the conversation. This week, I don't need to do that. The students are respectfully disagreeing with one another, and providing legal rationale for their stances. I am proud.
I truly believe my students are the role models for what I would love to see in our world today. We can disagree, but we don't have to be disagreeable. We can hold our own viewpoints, but we don't have to shove them down the throats of our fellow humans. I want to have my thinking expanded, challenged, and broadened. I pray that we might all see the value in this type of discourse.
No matter what, I am sticking with the winners, though.
Just for today, perhaps we should consider what that means in our own lives. And maybe, just maybe, we can make disagreeing respectfully just "par for the course".
Model, model, model
I won't lie. I knew from the moment I came out of the womb I would never be a model (don't argue; yes, I knew myself). I was short, with chubby cheeks and a button nose. Not the makings of a young Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, or Cindy Crawford, that's for sure. No, I was destined to be called, if anything, "cute". I bet Gisele has never been told she was "cute". But I suppose I am digressing from my intended topic. That is, to say, I didn't intend to talk about supermodels. I am referring to the type of modeling I can only wish that Kirby had received as a young pup.
We got Kirby as a 6 1/2 week old puppy from Nogales, Mexico. Our intent was to foster him until he could get neutered (typically that rousing adventure can occur at 4 months of age), then we would begin looking for his forever family in earnest. Something happened along the way, evidently, that prevented that course of events---that something was bonding. Kirby wormed his way into the hearts of our entire family, namely our oldest Lab, L.N., who (having never had pups of her own) took Kirby under her wing (literally, at times) and taught him how to be an Arneson dog. Fast forward 2 1/2 years. As most of you know, Kirby's forever home is with us and L.N.'s "forever home" is now to sit at the feet of Jesus (and snore for him, I believe---unless maybe dogs quit snoring when they get to Heaven because God can't stand the sound). My point about Kirby is that he was around solely girl dogs from 6 1/2 weeks of age. He never had a male dog role model to teach him how to urinate. Therefore, as much as I hounded Dave to try to teach him (Dave quizzes me on how he was supposed to teach this particular skill), Kirby pees like a girl dog, which is unfortunate because it means he frequently urinates on the backs of his front legs. A few weeks ago, I asked him if he minded having urine on the backs of his front legs, and while he didn't answer me outloud, he began doing something different (read: odd) when we go for a walk. He now, upon seeing a low-to-the-ground bush, climbs on top of said bush and goes to the bathroom while straddling it. Weirdo. Poor dear, he simply never had good modeling, I suppose.
Finally, I arrive at the true point of my post. I have been wrestling with the idea of modeling for quite a while. I teach graduate level courses in Educational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. In courses on school leadership, I try my best to model for my students what I believe good school leaders should do. In fact, I spend way too much time, quite likely, writing notes to my students about the papers they submit each week and on their weekly discussion posts online. But I actually had a student who said to me that she was taken aback because she had never had a professor write comments ("track changes") on her papers before and she was just used to getting a grade and a "Good job" on her papers. Wait, what? Did she seriously just say my specific feedback was overwhelming because she wasn't used to it? My question for the entire class then became, "How might we, as school leaders, model for teachers what we know are effective teaching practices in the classroom?" Here are some of the ways I believe we can do just that:
*Give specific and timely feedback to teachers (whether they are in a graduate level class or not) about their performance---this necessitates watching the practices of the teacher then making the time to give the feedback in a way in which it will be received
*Expect the same behavior from teachers as we expect teachers to expect from their own students---if I am teaching 10 participants or 800 participants, I have some expectations that those participants are going to be respectful to one another. What does that look like? Not talking while another person is talking, because you simply are not going to convince me (ever) that everyone gets a fair shake at hearing the speaker if others are having sidebar conversations. Plus....ummmm....it's just plain rude. I may or may not have wanted to say, "Did you not get taught any differently when you were young?" but, instead, I try to reframe the question in a more palatable manner. If I, as a teacher, witnessed my fellow educators being disrespectful during a presentation done by God Himself or done by a peer teacher, I would be mortified but I would also non-verbally or quietly let the offender know, "Hey, we are trying to listen." By the way, to the people who talked and opened candy wrappers the entire production of Les Miserables yesterday (Did I say "entire"? Do you know how long that show is??), we tried desperately to respectfully get your attention, to no avail.
*Talk about the purpose for the modeling---if I am modeling a behavior that is considered good practice for teachers in their own classroom, I will talk about the "what", "why" and "how" of what I am doing. I use chimes to bring audience conversation to a close. I often get told, "I love those chimes. That is such a cute idea." The same thing happens when I use colorboards (sort of the cheap girl's whiteboards with the added bonus of using four different colors). I make sure to tell people, "I don't use chimes or colorboards because they are 'cute'. I use them because they are effective tools. The purpose for the colors of colorboards is to also use them as a tool for grouping, as well." You may think some new idea is clever, but the reason I use whatever strategy, tool, or technique I use is because it has been proven to me to be effective.
Modeling what we expect is one of the most effective aspects of our work in education (or any other field, for that matter) we can use. Modeling allows for the ability to watch something being done and virtually try it on for size.
How do you use modeling in your own work? I'd love to hear some ideas!
In the meantime, I am going to try to recruit some boy dogs in the neighborhood to come model for Kirby.
In honor of the Queen of Soul
Let's talk about R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
She was not only the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin's song about respect always hit home with me. One of the issues I have always had with the notion of respect is that it seems to have different meanings for different people and in different situations. If I am the one who feels I am being disrespected, the definition can look vastly variant from if I see someone else openly disrespecting another person (or group of people). In other words, there is such a personal nature to the concept, it is hard to remain neutral when talking about it.
There are, however, some universal truths that I have noted in the world of education (that naturally transfer globally to the business world and relationship world outside of education). Here are three of them:
1. Presence makes a big difference --- As someone who has the blessing and privilege of traveling to schools and districts all over the world, I see enormous differences in the presence of administrators. In some workshops I teach, I’m working with teachers. In some workshops, I am working with school leaders. No matter the type, I am always tentative about the culture of a school or district in which the leader isn’t present, physically AND/OR mentally. In a recent workshop, I was working with school leaders. The superintendent was there the entire time. He not only was present, he was totally engaged the entire time in the work we were doing. What does that say to the school leaders in his district? To me, it says, “The work you are doing matters to me, and if it is important enough for you to be engaged in this work, I better know about it as well.” I took a moment to compliment his presence, and he said, "What do you mean? Are there people who don't attend workshops with their principals?" Ummm...yes.
Sometimes, at school-level trainings, I have principals and APs move from table to table, sitting with each group for a “chunk” of time in order to hear their perspectives on the topics we are discussing. The opposite scenario obviously exists, as well; there are districts in which I have worked for years, and I have never met the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent. How, I wonder, does this model the notion of principal presence in teacher’s classrooms or even teachers in student learning if the leader of the entire district isn’t practicing what they are preaching?
As a professor for online courses for students getting their Educational Leadership certification, I try to be present in the discussion threads at least once a day. The requirement is less than that, but I feel like I am called to model what good school leaders should do. So….I lurk. I listen (or, online, read) in on conversations to see where the misconceptions lie, where the disagreements lie, and where I might offer a bit of experience, if not expertise. Some of my students likely would like me to not be “all up in their business” so much of the time, and I have had many of them share with me, “I’ve never been in an online class before where the professor was so involved or wrote so much on my papers.” Presence, I believe, also means giving meaningful feedback based on the work I am seeing. While not every student thanks me during the course, I get so many beautifully written emails after the courses are finished, thanking me for pushing them. I do the same for all my workshop participants.
As Doug Lemov says, “Right is right” in Teach Like a Champion, and we shouldn’t expect less than that, or else we may be sending the signal that mediocre is really an okay place to be. I was blessed, as a school leader, to work in a school in which most of the teachers were willing to push themselves and didn’t need me to push them as much as I feel I need to push my students in my online courses.
2.Listening without an agenda shows respect---As I mentioned, I teach all over the world. I have seen so many different cultures of communication, it blows my mind to think of the variations. In one school district, the Superintendent has a no cell-phone policy for principal workshops. He says, “If someone from your school needs you, they know to reach you here.” Wow. In other schools, I have seen principals talk right over the teachers, while the teachers ignore what the principal is saying and carry on their own conversations.
When I begin a workshop, I set the norm that we are going to listen to each other with respect. What does that mean? I define it as: we listen without interruption while another person (whether it is the presenter—me—or others at your small group or during a whole group conversation) is talking.
No matter how you try to spin it to me, you can’t talk over people and convince me that you are still showing respect to them.
I, in fact, have witnessed groups who talk over each other (six people talking/arguing with one another at a time), and I have to pull everyone back and ask, “Is there anyone else in the room distracted by this behavior?” Many hands will be raised. My next question is, “How can you ensure that you are hearing and understanding another person’s point of view if you are talking over them?” Typically, if I have to ask this question, there is radio-silence, as there simply isn’t an answer that is going to bode well for your case for interrupting one another.
I am also so very blessed to get a chance to go into classrooms all over the world and observe teaching practices. I steal as many of the good ones as I can. Some of the most successful classrooms I observe have best practices for how to engage in respectful conversation. Many teachers use academic conversation cards or posters (signs that remind students to say things like, “I agree with _________, but I also think ________” or “What are some examples of what you are saying?” or “I need some more clarification on your perspective”). Obviously, these look different at different grade levels, but the fact remains that, if we can teach students to listen to each other without interrupting one another, then the adults in the building(s) should be expected to do the same.
3.Building rapport can make or break the feeling of respect
If you want to know what Dave’s and my phone number was when we lived in Carrollton, Texas when we first got married 26 years ago, he is your guy. He is the numbers guy, after all. I, on the other hand, am the name girl. When I was a guidance counselor and then a principal at an elementary school, my mission was to ensure I knew the name of every student in the school. It wasn’t some weirdo personal challenge on my part. I simply had a hunch that calling students by name has an enormous impact on whether they believe you care about them. For instance, when I was a guidance counselor at a middle school in Florida, the principal (who I adored and respected for this reason, as well) and I would do hall duty together during passing periods, which really consisted of telling students to “Slow down” or ask how they were doing. We ascertained that saying, “Hey….hey,….hey….walk….walk…walk….” didn’t quite have as desired an effect as, “Tommy, come here for a minute. Now, what problems have we talked about concerning running in the hallway?”
Making connections matters. I observed a 1st grade teacher who, in March, was still pointing at her students to call on them when she asked a question. Wait, what? Don’t you know their names by now? You only have 20 of them, after all. I can only imagine what that must have felt like to be six years old and have your teacher point AT you (there simply is no other way to describe it).
The same, I believe, works to my advantage when I present workshops. I give out nametags at the beginning of the workshop, but by two hours into the workshop, I have tried to learn all their names without looking at the nametags (sometimes, it is difficult, obviously, if I have more than 40 or so people). And speaking of 40 (or 50, don't judge), it began to get harder for me and takes longer for me as I get older. But I still believe in the value of calling students and workshop participants by name. That is the first way I can begin to build a climate of respect in our time together. Have you seen the youtube video of the teacher who has a different handshake for every single student who comes in her class? Way to build rapport with your kids!! Way too much kinesthetic memory for me, but I can do names, she can do handshakes, and Dave can…well, he can remember your phone number.
In what ways do you build and maintain respect in your own work?
Don’t forget to share your ideas with me! I want to hear some good ones!